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Torbett should step down from Johnson City school board

Johnson City Press • Jun 13, 2018 at 8:30 AM

By all accounts, Stacie Torbett has served Johnson City admirably in her 1½ years on the Board of Education. We expected as much when we endorsed her in the 2016 municipal election.

But Torbett no longer lives in Johnson City, and residency is a requirement for service on either the school board or the City Commission. She moved in May from a house near The Ridges to one between Boones Creek and Gray, just outside the corporate limits.

As Staff Writer Zach Vance reported in Tuesday’s edition, local attorney Erick Herrin is looking into whether state law would allow Torbett to serve out her four-year term despite her lack of residency. Herrin, who often does legal work for the city in an outsourced role, took up the question as the city awaits the return of its staff attorney, Jim Epps IV, from a trip.

Legal eagles aside, there’s really no question here. Johnson City’s elected officials should live in Johnson City. If city residency is required for election, then city residency should be required for continued service; otherwise, the original requirement is useless.

The Johnson City Charter clearly states that Board of Education members must be citizens of the city and reside within the corporate limits. State law is less exact, stating, “If any member ceases to reside in the county, the office of the member shall become vacant.” A 2012 Tennessee Attorney General opinion, however, states that the law equally applies to city school boards, despite the Legislature’s lack of inclusive language.

Torbett’s case is tough. Her family continues to own the house she left, so she’s a city taxpayer. Her new home is just outside the corporate limits. Her kids continue to attend city schools, so she has a vested interest in the school district’s success.

That’s the major downside here. Torbett was the only candidate in the 2016 field for school board whose children were attending city schools. It’s sad to lose that perspective. Parents of current students provide school boards with special insights that others simply can’t. She’s also a former educator — another valuable quality. No doubt, Torbett has been an asset.

Her continued desire to serve is commendable, but we disagree with her assessment that the “spirit of the law is to keep people who have the city’s interest at heart instead of having someone who wants to run for office that doesn’t have anything to do with the city.”

No, the law is there so that actual residents have a voice in their government.

Regardless of whether one moves to Gray or Nome, Alaska, any elected official who no longer resides in the city should resign the seat. Torbett should step down, allowing the Board of Education to appoint an interim member until the election in November, when the remaining two years of the term would be up for grabs.

Perhaps the school board can look to another current parent to fill the void.

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